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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Proposed changes to 'Stand Your Ground' law get hearings this week



A proposal that would give defendants more protection under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law will go before two legislative committees this week.

Some Republican lawmakers want to strengthen the law in response to a 5-2 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in July, which affirmed that the defendant bears the burden of proof in demonstrating that they acted in self-defense.

Some legislators believe the court erred in its finding and they want to make the law explicitly clear that it should actually be the prosecutor who should prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- before trial -- why a defendant's self-defense claim doesn't qualify for immunity protections.

House Bill 169, introduced by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, gets its first hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The Senate version gets its second vetting before that chamber's Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Florida's 10-year-old "Stand Your Ground" Law allows residents to use deadly force in defense of their lives in certain circumstances. A defendant's stand-your-ground claim is vetted during a pretrial evidentiary hearing, when they can seek to dismiss the case by citing self-defense immunity.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority in the July opinion, said requiring the defendant to prove their ability to qualify for such immunity is "principled, practical and supported by our precedent" for other motions of dismissal.

But Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island -- the Senate sponsor -- said last month that the court's ruling exhibited "classic overreach" that conservatives, such as him, find "objectionable."

Bradley said it is a "fundamental tenant" of the American judicial system that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and he said the circumstance should be no different for someone who asserts immunity from prosecution under the "Stand Your Ground" law. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced the bill by a 4-1 vote during that Oct. 20 hearing.

Criminal defense attorneys, public defenders, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups support the bill; while state prosecutors, victims rights advocates and the Florida League of Women Voters opposes it.

The legislation also would allow the defendant to recoup attorneys fees and other costs up to $200,000, if the court granted a defendant's motion to dismiss the case.

The proposed legislation would apply retroactively to pending cases, if enacted.

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2015 8:59am]


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